October 31, 2014

Ferguson riots

[Written August 11th. This is as much an update for friends and family as it is a perspective from someone who is new to town.]

So I moved to St. Louis 6 weeks ago. Been out of town for about 3 of those weeks. Let’s count it as 3 weeks on the ground. Everyone is very friendly, strangers talk to you on the street. My A/C broke and my neighbors who I had only ever met once before offered me the use of both of their fans. (We only needed one for the bedroom.) Then I bumped into a new neighbor whom I had never met, and she offered to lend me her fans. Overall, St. Louis is great.

Everyone talked about the racial divide, the Delmar divide. We saw glimpses of it here and there. Fireworks in Forest Park and the 2 separate stops for folks coming from the East side and the West side. White and black divided by railcars moving in different directions. I was in Los Angeles, the site of racial riots in 1992, this weekend for the OCA convention when the Mike Brown shooting happened. Picking me up from the airport this weekend there was a police blockade. Now the cops are throwing tear gas bombs in Ferguson and shooting rubber bullets. My AFLCIO coworkers were at the FTAA in Miami in 2003 when they got shot with rubber bullets. They hurt. And actually were moved off the non-lethal list of weaponry. Last night a Walmart was looted and a gas station went up in flames. This is real and this is live. Here’s a good article about why Ferguson, why riots: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/relationships-and-special-occasions/parenting/aisha-sultan/why-ferguson-burned-explaining-st-louis-area-riot-to-kids/article_725f501f-ba21-538a-acaf-f00221add91d.html

Brown’s own family members have said the destruction in their hometown is salt in their wounds. When peaceful protests turn to a city’s self immolation, there is no justice for anyone. What’s left is a community used to being unheard, roiling in the wake of a deadly police shooting. A powder keg of unemployment and poverty, of neglect and frustration, and those willing to exploit a tragedy for personal gain.

–Caroline

Bringing back earmarks?

There is an argument to be made that Congress functions better with earmarks than without. The latest version comes from Jim Dyer, a Republican who worked under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and served as Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee. His point is that part of the reason that the Veterans Administration was not reformed before is that Congress hasn’t been able to use earmarks to microtarget problems and fund solutions.

After all, what good is a national transportation policy if we can’t fix the potholes on Main Street? What good is a national recreation policy if our local parks are unsafe? And while we debate climate change, can we at least repair specific cities and towns ravaged by hurricanes, floods and fires? And, if we are going to rightfully allocate $1.5 billion more in funds to the VA this year than last because our postwar era needs exceed prewar demand, can’t we at least arm the custodians of the purse with the power to ensure it is spent wisely? (Politico)

I am not wholly convinced that earmarks are the only way to go to fix the VA because let’s be honest, the issues there are systematic and very long-standing and precede the current moratorium of the past three years. However, there are so many issues that Congress has not moved on (such as reauthorization of unemployment insurance benefits or a larger jobs bill) that benefit Americans of all stripes and if it takes funding pet projects in districts to get bills passed, folks are questioning previous disdain for earmarks. Some writing from left of center argue that at this point, Congress is broken enough that we just need some levers to get it moving again. And if earmarks can spur action, so be it.

“There is no question that sometimes, to get bills through, you have to ask people to vote for things that are going to cause them political pain at home, and you ease that pain by compensating them with earmarks,” said former Massachusetts representative Barney Frank in an interview. Today, he added, there are other things a party leader can do to build support for legislation, but “earmarks were the best.” (Boston Globe)

Additionally, it’s not as if the process of earmarking has ended, it’s just gone underground as “lettermarking.” Or elected officials threaten to withhold votes for agency funding or appointees unless their pet project gets money. Or, in the worst case scenario, Congress just shuts down government.

While earmarks required publication of a pork project—along with the amount of taxpayer money being spent and identification of the elected official proposing the earmark—lettermarking allows for such expenditures without any identification of the project, sum and sponsoring legislator whatsoever. (Forbes)

No one wants bridges to nowhere, but Congressional dithering on other common sense issues such as transportation reform and VAWA that have previously passed with large bipartisan majorities could make progressives and conservatives alike rethink earmark opposition. Needless to say, federal funding spurs job creation and workforce training in the states. Sometimes the only thing worse than pork is a complete standstill.

–Caroline

Real people and their stories: How the government shutdown affected journalists

Editor’s Note: We welcome Jayna Omaye to our blogteam! She’s a journalist with Northwestern University and we are very excited for the professional insight and writing she brings to you our reader.

What happens when your job is covering the government as a journalist, but the government shuts down for two weeks? That was the dilemma many journalists faced as hearings, speaking engagements and other events were postponed so legislators could focus on reopening the government.

Sometimes it’s really easy to get caught up in the politics of an issue, especially when you’re in D.C. When the government shut down, many people were concerned with which politician was arguing for what, why the two parties couldn’t get along, etc.

But the real effects of the shutdown could be seen through the eyes of the average, everyday person: the furloughed employees, the tourists who traveled all the way to D.C. to see barricaded monuments, and the businesses near the Hill that took a beating.

These stories were worth telling, and that is what my classmates and I tried to focus on during the shutdown. If you weren’t in the district during these past two weeks, the shutdown may not have been as obvious. But it has affected everyone, including those not in D.C.

I remember calling my mom to ask her if the federal cemetery where my grandparents are buried was still open. The thought of it closing only hit her as she was driving up the hill to the cemetery.

During the first week of the shutdown, I was working on a story about how well youth followed government news. A Pew study found that younger Americans were least likely to follow the shutdown.

I remember talking to a furloughed intern who was worried about receiving college credit for her internship if the shutdown didn’t end soon. In the meantime, she had to substitute her internship experience with reading textbooks and writing essays. Another intern I talked to was not furloughed because her Congressman deemed his entire staff essential.

Another story I worked on was a video about how D.C. tour companies were affected by the shutdown. I went into the story expecting that these businesses would say the shutdown was horrible and devastating to their business. But again, I was surprised.

Even though one tour company said they were losing business and customers, they also said the shutdown allowed them to explore other avenues and be resourceful. They were able to increase their neighborhood and food tours, which weren’t affected by the shutdown, and help furloughed local workers tour and see their own neighborhoods.

Many people think working as a journalist in D.C. is all about covering government hearings and the politics of an issue. While that is half true, the other part of the job is understanding how what happens in D.C. affects the rest of the country.

I know many people who don’t like “politics.” And while I understand where they’re coming from (because it can be very confusing to grasp), politics and policies encompass everything in this country.

Every single bill that passes through Congress and is signed by the President affects citizens nationwide, whether they know it or not. This idea was even more apparent these past two weeks.

So what happens when your job is covering the government as a journalist, but the government shuts down? As always, you concentrate on real people and their stories.

My shutdown stories:
“D.C. tourism takes a hit during government shutdown”

“Youth least likely to follow government shutdown news, report says”

– Jayna Omaye

Living vs dead Chinatowns, gentrification & elections

AALDEF, the NYC based Asian American civil rights organization, has a new report out about the rate of gentrification in Chinatowns in NYC, Boston, and Philadelphia. (I guess DC was just a lost cause.) In conjunction with the discussion of this article, I want to propose the idea of “living” (these three cities, Chicago, San Francisco) versus “dead” Chinatowns (DC.) In my mind, when I walk the streets of a given Chinatown, “living” connotes active engagement and residency by the Chinese American community versus the slick, big box retail feel of Washington, DC Chinatown, which most Chinese Americans fled decades ago for Montgomery County, MD, and Fairfax, VA. The shops in DC Chinatown are adorned in bright signs with Chinese characters, but have very little daily relevance to Chinese or Chinese American culture, such as the skateboard shop, the Ann Taylor, and the Legal Seafood.

It’s a very read-worthy report, and I’ve gone on the walking tour of Boston Chinatown where you can see how highway I-93 literally cuts through the enclave, with a half-sheared building standing mute but providing powerful testimony to interesting municipal planning. The report illuminated that the AAPI population in Boston Chinatown went from 70% in 1990 to 46% in 2010. Philadelphia Chinatown has been encroached upon by developers, and was under threat from a proposed casino for a significant period. NYC Chinatown was at one point overtaking Little Italy, but now with the New Museum and the gentrification of the Bowery, is being pressed upon by towering luxury apartment buildings. Not to mention, Park Row, a residential community adjacent to South Chinatown, and nearby commercial buildings (shops and restaurants) have been under the shadow of 9/11 for 12 years, with limited access for a substantial period of time (9/11 cleanup), depressing retail sales. To this day, there are armed police stations that guard the entrance path to Park Row.

San Francisco Chinatown has managed to thrive due to a high intra-ethnicity turnover rate, and Chicago Chinatown (of which, really, there are 3 – historic Chinatown, “new” Argyle (largely Vietnamese-Chinese American) Chinatown, and “new new” Chinatown, which is across the street from historic Chinatown, and includes a number of residential properties that have lured second and third generation Chinese Americans back to the city center. (There is some small degree of this happening in other cities as well, but in my mind, Chicago has done a better job than most.)

The reason that I keep rotating back to this issue of whether Chinese Americans who have “made it” come back is because it is also a large part of why “living” Chinatowns become essentially “dead” Chinatowns. Moving out of Chinatown and to the suburbs is intrinsically seen as one of the markers of success for first, second, and third generation Chinese Americans. This is antithetical to keeping Chinatowns vibrant. This is separate from biased and discriminatory urban planning decisions hatched in concert with the stereotypically greedy developers. And it absolutely doesn’t discount folks who want to stay but get pushed out – I’m just bringing this up because it’s also a real thing.

Don’t get me wrong – DC Chinatown/Verizon Center is more bustling and lively than a decade ago, and is now an economic engine and one of the hearts of the city, but the business owners by and large do not live there. Although the DC AAPI population has risen 60% since 2000, according to the 2010 Census.

In NYC, the press of developers on the boundaries of Chinatown has caused friends who have lived, breathed, and worked in Chinatown for decades to move to Harlem, where elected officials like City Councilor Melissa Mark-Vivitero have noticed the increase of AAPIs. This follows on a previous out-migration to Queens (Flushing, Woodside, etc.), Brooklyn (where there is another Chinatown), New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut.

So how do we keep the living nature of Chinatowns across the country? The report proposes several solutions: reinforcing and constructing more low-income housing, subsidizing local small businesses, prioritizing green spaces, strengthening the links between satellite Asian Am enclaves in the suburbs to the Chinatown cores, and engaging in dialogue with traditional community land owners like the family associations. All of these are great, and I’m going to a step further.

What I’m fundamentally saying is that keeping Chinatown affordable and full of vitality is partially dependent upon the people in elected office. They hold hearings and have influence over city planning to varying degrees. Former At-Large Boston City Councilor Sam Yoon came out of the fight to keep one Boston Chinatown. Michelle Wu and Suzanne Lee are running for city council in Boston (different seats.) Philadelphia has yet to elect a progressive AAPI city councilmember, whereas SF has a plethora of AAPI electeds (and folks in the pipelines to run when the inevitable term limits hit.) AAAF Greater Chicago helped get Alderman Ameya Pawar, the first AAPI alderman ever in Chicago, elected in 2011. Progress is slow, but steady.

Not that AAPI candidates are necessarily going to be informed about the community’s issues, or even live in the Chinatown district. It is incumbent upon the community and those who work to keep living, breathing Chinatowns to educate candidates and elected officials, regardless of their ethnicity. Because we all need allies and champions in this effort, and sometimes people surprise you.

–Caroline

A dialogue on n+1’s “White Indians” piece

Editor’s note: In reading n+1’s “White Indians,” I had my own thoughts and solicited the opinions of two Indian American friends, who agreed to have our dialogue published as long as they were anonymized. Let’s call them J and T. This is by no means meant to symbolize what all Indian Americans or all Asian Americans think; what follows is real talk about race, hip hop, arts and culture, and politics amongst friends.:

“White Indians” argues that South Asian Americans are a “safe” minority to have on-screen, that “no color is safer than South Asian brown. No minority presence in the US is more reassuring, or less likely to get angry or acknowledge your antiblack racism.”

C: My initial take was that as well written as the article is, I have mixed feelings because the editors (including editor Nikil Saval) don’t talk about the current mainstream or the conflation of South Asian American with the scary terrorist. Conflicted about a lot of it, but the handling of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley is spot on. Have noticed and cheered rise of desis on tv.

J: Thank you for sending this provocative article. I completely agree with your assessment of it esp. about Muslim-Americans. I too have mixed feelings, particularly about the caustic writing style. It kind of put me in a funk reading it in the morning. It was kind of all over the place and written from a masculine perspective. Why didn’t he mention The Mindy Project? asked K. One error that I’d point out is that Vijay Prashad actually says that the folks who came through the highly skilled labor pool were from middle-class families in India, not wealthy elites. Prof. Pras(h)ad was referenced in a poorly edited documentary “Not a Feather But a Dot.”

T: I actually thought it was very well-written, though after a while it did come off as ranting. That’s the point where I think it lost an overall thesis to the whole piece. However, I do agree with a lot of the points brought up, it’s all stuff I’ve heard in various places since college, just collated.

I agree with his point about Desi actors, but at the same time, I’m conflicted b/c I know a lot of them. They struggle for roles, because diverse roles don’t often exist for south asian actors — the reason the Outsourced people were so excited was, even though they were stereotyped roles, they were LEAD roles, something a lot of those actors have strived for for a long, long time and rarely gotten a shot at. And in the arts, Desis gravitate towards being performers, but not as much towards directing and producing, i.e. decision-making that would open up more opportunities for non-white actors. So essentially, they take what they can get, and I don’t think you can fault them for it. Kind of similar to Hattie McDaniel…..people always gave her crap about taking stereotyped black “mammie” roles, but at the same time, she won an OSCAR as a black woman in the 1930’s. You have to give her credit for that.

There actually are a lot of indian americans (younger) that Identify more with hip-hop culture and not so much the whiteness — but these are the kids of working class families, not the ones that grew up in affluent, “whiter” suburbs. Also — there are a lot of younger Indians leaning to the right, the ones who grew up in more affluent suburbs and all want to open their own businesses, or who are culturally sheltered and think gay marriage is gross….

J: Yeah, one of my young 18 year old cousins is a mini-Republican in the making, all about entrepreneurship, and grew up in predominantly white affluent suburbs. hip-hop is no longer black, urban, or low-income in its roots anymore – it’s global, and there are plenty of people of all races who identify with it, both as listeners and producers.

T: My point about the hip hop was not so much about identifying with blacks (look at most of Irvine, CA as an illustration — hip hop oriented but still very, very Asian). A better way of saying it is that there’s a contingent of young Desis who are not white-identifying, usually from less affluent backgrounds.

C: I think there is a subset of any minority that is not white or mainstream identifying. 626 and Garden City CA is a good example too. How does this compare with the diaspora experience?

Actually, if you don’t mind, this is a pretty educational dialogue. Would it be ok to post this dialogue, with names stripped out if you prefer, to the aaa fund blog?

T: I’m fine if you post the comments, i’ll leave it up to J.

J: Sure, no names please.

–Caroline

Public hospitals in NYC charge less for Medicaid care than private, hospital closings & the safety net

The NYTimes has a new article out on the discrepancy amongst hospitals and what they charge for Medicaid procedures. This isn’t a new topic (Stephen Brill did a great piece on it called “Bitter Pill” and patient advocates have known this for a long time), but the government released new comparison data on 3,000 hospitals nationally. In the NYC area, it’s unsurprising – the public Health & Hospitals Corporation (HHC) hospitals charge less than the US average for Medicaid services. The private hospitals charge anywhere from 1-2 times the US average, to more than that. Unsurprisingly, because the public safety net hospitals try not to gouge their patients, their finances are also suffering. Of the hospitals that have closed or that are on the chopping block, many are HHC hospitals.

Some of the hospitals that charge less than the US average: Bellevue, King’s County, Harlem, Downtown, Elmhurst, Flushing
Some that charge 1-2x the US avg: NYU Medical Centers, NY Presbyterian, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, Beth Israel, UMDNJ
Some that charge > 1-2x US avg: Robert Wood Johnson Rahway, Long Island Jewish

Let’s have a conversation about what hospitals price gouge versus perform a public service the next time the state decides to put together Berger Commission part 2 to close hospitals. Because that analysis was incredibly short-sighted and determined that there were too many hospital beds in the event of an emergency. Of course, they thought we would still have access to all bridges and tunnels in the event of an emergency. So when Hurricane Sandy hit, Manhattan hospitals had to transfer within the island. But there weren’t enough beds to transfer patients to, so it took longer to remove all the patients from the waterlogged hospitals. I would hope that this is a serious consideration the next time around.

It’s easy to make money by overcharging. It’s harder to keep hospitals afloat when you are committed to public service, harder to justify grossly overcharging for things from basic bandages to complicated, costly procedures.

–Caroline

It Takes A Village To Blow One Up

West, Texas was best known as a place to grab something from the Czech Bakery while driving between Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Now, West is best known as the latest in a long line of American industrial disasters reprehensible for their utter preventability.

The explosion at the fertilizer plant comes from failure of the local, state, and federals governments and the plant owners and operators to satisfy the needs of worker safety, community safety, and national security. OSHA has not inspected the plant since 1985. Schools and homes were allowed to be built very near the plant. The plant had 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate at which Department of Homeland Security regulation is triggered. We know the plant had so much ammonium nitrate, because paperwork indicating such was filed with with a Texas regulatory entity. The mishmash of regulators is not required to share information. Unlike the inability of first responders to communicate with each other because of technical incompatibilities, government regulators don’t interact with each other. Given the large variety of regulating agencies, better intercommunication is needed.

A tangle of agencies regulates plants like the one in West. Different agencies were assigned oversight for different chemicals there. Among the federal agencies responsible were the E.P.A., Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. State agencies include the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state chemist’s office and the state health services department.

Ammonium nitrate is a national security concern because in nefarious hands it can cause this:

Murrah_Building_-_Aerial

Terrorism isn’t the only reason for concern about the large amount of such an explosive chemical:

The explosion was so powerful it leveled homes and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Judging by the size of the crater and the extent of the damage — pieces of twisted metal landed in distant pastures, and ceiling tiles and lights shook loose in buildings two miles away — the explosion was more powerful than the Oklahoma City bombing, experts said.

Texas markets its lax regulations as a reason for businesses to relocate:

Loose regulations” in Texas may be a nice pitch for out-of-state business, however, in 2010 the state accounted for 10% of all workplace-related fatalities in the country. In 2011, Texas had the second-highest number of fatality investigations from OSHA (California was first), in 2010, Texas led the nation in Latino worker fatalities.

The marvelous economic tales spun about Texas even beguile those who should know better like a writer for Texas Monthly. Jack Ohman and the editors of the Sacramento Bee, however, were not beguiled:

RTSHf.St.4

The owners and operators of the plant seem to have long thought they could pick and choose what few regulations with which they were supposed to comply would apply to them. Among other problems, the company received a citation for construction of 6,000 gallon ammonia tanks without a permit, did not have a sufficient risk management plan, and had no signs or illegible signs on many storage tanks, many of which did not meet safety standards.

The Czech connection in West remains strong; the Czech Republic may provide nearly $200,000 to aid recovery. That’s very helpful and kind; it’s greatly appreciated. I wonder, though, if Bangladesh provides something even better, a guide on how to handle preventable disasters — arrest the owners.

How many other extremely dangerous plants and chemical storage facilities continue to operate in similar fashion with such disregard for the workers, the community, and national security?

– Justin Gillenwater

Rep. Takano Statement on FAA Delaying Tower Closures

Editor’s Note: The below is a follow-up of “Rep. Takano Sends Letter to FAA Administrator To Keep Riverside Air Traffic Control Tower Open and Operating” from our 2012 endorsed candidate Mark Takano (CA-41).

Congressman Mark Takano

For Immediate Release
Friday, April 5, 2013
Contact: Brett Morrow
brett.morrow@mail.house.gov; (202) 225-2305

Rep. Takano Statement on FAA Delaying Tower Closures

Washington DC – Earlier today, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) released the following statement regarding the FAA’s decision to delay tower closures until June 15:

“Today’s decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to delay the closure of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers, including the Riverside Air Traffic Control Tower until June 15 to review risk mitigations, is a step in the right direction.

“The risks of closing Riverside Air Traffic Control Tower are clear, as it is critical to air safety in Riverside County. The Riverside area conducts nearly 80,000 flying operations each year and has four active flight schools. Additionally, the Riverside Airport is only 12 miles away from March Air Reserve Base, which is home to multiple flying missions and aircraft. At the same time, several arrival routes into Los Angeles International Airport fly over Riverside.

“The close proximity of military air operations, flight training activities, and commercial flights increases the likelihood that air space will be shared and poses a serious safety hazard.

“My hope is that by June 15, the FAA will reconsider closing the Riverside Air Traffic Control Tower and determine the risk too great to our community.”

###

Question of the Week: Daylight “Losings” Time

Should we get rid of Daylight Savings/Losings Time?

— Gautam Dutta

Question of the Week

Would you rather use a dollar bill or a dollar coin?

— Gautam Dutta